It's not every day that an individual overcomes severe disadvantages with such gusto that one forgets they are performing with a disability of some sort. In sports, few cases can rival the inspiring career of one-armed pitcher Jim Abbott, who never let the lack of a right arm deter his major league dreams … or the goal of throwing a professional no-hitter.
Now Abbott has company in the person of a senior doubles tennis player in the state of Kentucky.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Letcher County (Ky.) Central doubles player Jacob Raleigh reached the state finals in his senior season despite being forced to play with only his right arm. Making matters more impressive, Raleigh wasn't even originally right-handed -- he grew up as a left-handed tennis player.
"I thought I could do it," Raleigh told the Herald-Leader.
He did it by rapidly adjusting to a life spent using only his "off hand." The senior's left arm was amputated because of an extremely rare cancer condition called Epithelioid Sarcoma that threatened to spread to other parts of his body if the entire area affected -- which focused on the tendons of his left wrist -- was not removed.
After losing his dominant arm, Raleigh had to re-learn how to do any number of everyday activities. Most significant athletically, he had to re-learn how to play tennis. As a sophomore, Raleigh had reached the state finals as a left-handed half of a state-qualifying doubles pair. His senior year was his first attempt at playing right-handed, and this time he had no dominant hand to lean on as a crutch if he struggled.
Here's how Raleigh described his first competitive singles match after surgery to the Herald-Leader's Mark Story:
"I was more nervous than I had ever been before a tennis match," he said. "But the player I was playing was a first-year guy, and I figured that, as a right-handed player, I was first-year, too. That helped me relax."
Incredibly, he thrived, sliding down to Letcher Central's No. 3 singles slot and partnering with Tyler Smith in a surprising doubles run which reached the state championship tournament before finally reaching its end before the state semifinals.
Despite falling short of a state crown, reaching the state finals accomplished a two-year goal for Raleigh, who promised himself he would return to the tournament after being ousted from it during his sophomore season. If only he'd known how much he would have to go through to achieve that goal.
"To have to go through cancer, first of all. Then you have your dominant arm taken away," said Tyler Smith, Jacob's doubles partner, told the Herald-Leader. "And still to be able to come back and play like he has, it's crazy. I don't know if I could have done that."